As Lion Air defended its policy of nine working hours for its pilots, a former stewardess said she received threatening text messages from the airline’s employees for making a remark about drug abuse.
On Wednesday, the privately owned airline said it never forced its pilots and air crews to work more than nine hours at a time.
With some pilots having been caught using drugs shortly before take-off, the public is guessing their drug-taking is due to their being over-worked.
“Our pilots and crews work in accordance with the regulation. They don’t work more than nine hours a day,” the airline’s general affairs director, Edward Sirait, said in Jakarta on Wednesday.
He also said the airline’s pilots and crew members have the right to refuse to work if they have already worked nine hours in one day.
Edward said that Lion Air, including its sister carrier Wings Air, employed 680 pilots, more than 1,000 engineers and 2,000 flight attendants that worked across the country.
The company expects to recruit 70 additional pilots this year, even though it considers it already has an adequate number.
The Transportation Ministry supported Edward’s stance.
“Based on the regulation, pilots and cabin crews can report to the ministry if they are forced to work more than nine hours,” the ministry’s spokesman, Bambang Ervan, told The Jakarta Post.
He said based on the ministry’s data, no airline violated the working-hour regulation, although the country was facing a shortage of pilots.
Bambang said there were only 600 to 650 new pilot graduates each year, while the country needed at least 900 pilots.
“The airline industry is all about safety. All airlines in the country are committed to making safety their number one priority,” he added.
At least three Lion Air pilots and one from another airline have been arrested for drug use within the past seven months.
After the latest arrest of a Lion Air pilot, identified as SS, in Surabaya, Edward guaranteed that there were no more pilots or crew members working under the influence of drugs. He then promised to conduct random drug testing on a regular basis.
A former airline stewardess, Farah Diba Panigoro, said she had received threats after claiming that most pilots were regular drug users. Farah, who resigned in 2008, made her statement a week after the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) arrested SS.
Although she did not specifically mention Lion Air in her televised remarks, Farah said she received several threats via SMS from Lion Air employees, tempo.co reported.
“They are threatening me with words such as: ‘You’d better watch your back when walking on the street’,” she said.
Farah, who has not reported the threats to the police, said her claims of pilot drug abuse were not confined to a single airline and were based on information from her former peers.
“I have friends with other airlines. They told the same stories; drugs were a common part of air crew members’ lives,” she said, refusing to name her former employer.
BNN’s chief of operations, Brig. Gen. Benny Mamoto said SS would be admitted to rehabilitation instead of being jailed because, based on the case’s ongoing investigation, the pilot was a user, not a dealer.
“The pilot will be sent to the Lido rehabilitation center for the meantime,” he said.
Benny also said there was a possibility that the pilot was involved in a drug-dealing network.
He said the agency and the airline would conduct urine tests more often, especially at airports where drug abuse cases frequently occurred.
The highlighted airports were in cities, such as Batam, Riau Islands; Jakarta; Surabaya, East Java; Makassar, South Sulawesi; Denpasar, Bali; and Medan, North Sumatra, Benny said.
“We want to instill fear among them [pilots and crews] so that they will think twice before taking drugs,” he told the Post. (asa/nfo/rpt)